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What Rabbit Diseases Are Spread to Humans?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. November 19, 2020
What Rabbit Diseases Are Spread to Humans?

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Rabbits are increasingly popular companion animals. Their companionship does not only extend to humans. Dogs and cats which have been well socialized can live very happily with rabbits, although it will depend on the individual animals. While there are a lot of practical and behavioral considerations we need to make when sharing our lives with rabbits, there are often health issues which can be overlooked. Zoonotic diseases, those which can spread from one animal to another, are one of them.

In this AnimalWised article we ask what rabbit diseases are spread to humans? We also find out if rabbits can pass on diseases to other animals in the home. These include viral, bactrial and fungal infections which can occur when we share close quarters with our rabbits.

You may also be interested in: 10 Rat Diseases Transferred to Humans

Rabbit diseases spread to humans

One of the most common healthy problems in rabbits is abnormal teeth growth, but this is not something which can be transmitted to humans. Rabbits are more likely to transmit viral, bacterial, fungal and even parasitic diseases to people,especially if they live in unhygienic conditions.

This doesn't mean if your rabbit is sick, you will be too. Many bacteria, virus, fungi or parasites are species specific and cannot transfer to humans. Those which can are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses.

Rabbit diseases caused by parasites

Some of the parasitic diseases transmitted by rabbits are:

  • Cheyletiellosis: caused by the Cheyletiella parasitivorax mite whic affects rabbits. It is very contagious and capable of infecting people. It produces a localized or generalized dermatitis causing multiple on both the extremeties and body. However, since people are not the final host of the mite, these symptoms usually disappear within a maximum of three weeks.
  • Giardiasis: Giardia duodenalis is a flagellated protozoan that is transmitted from the feces of infected rabbits. Infected deces is generally pasty and runny. It is especially dangerous in immunosuppressed people or in children, so any change in the appearance of our rabbit's feces should make us suspect this parasite.
  • Leishmaniasis: rabbits have been shown to act as transmitters of Leishmania infantum, but a sandfly mosquito needs to pass between the rabbit and the person for the disease to spread. In people, this disease causes difficulty in breathing and swallowing, ulcers on the skin, mouth and lips, congestion, and nosebleeds. It can also cause visceral leishmaniasis which causes diarrhea, fever, cough and vomiting in children. Adults may experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weight loss and cold sweats.
  • Coccidiosis: is a disease caused by protozoa that mainly affects the digestive system and can cause diarrhea (sometimes with blood present), intestinal inflammation and dehydration. Eimeria is the most important parasite in rabbits and can be transmitted to people mainly via the handling of rabbit feces.
  • Microsporidiosis: Encephalitozoon cuniculi is a very common parasite in rabbits. If transmitted to humans, it can cause a systemic disease which mainly affects the brain and kidneys.

Rabbit diseases caused by fungi

If a rabbit is sick due to a fungal infection, they will have various symptoms. They can transfer diseases to humans, but they won't always display the same symptoms:

  • Ringworm: after contact with the skin or hair, we can become infected with the spores of dermatophyte fungi of the Microsporum and Trichophyton genera. The hyphae grow in the outer layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum), lifting the hair cuticle until the hair falls out. Affected rabbits usually have circular alopecic patches, visible red patches on their skin. However, sometimes the animal is an asymptomatic carrier and it is only the caregiver who has the symptoms. When transferred to humans symptoms include welts and circular areas with reddish edges that itch, mostly located on the neck, chest and arms.
  • Sporotrichosis: the fungus Sporothrix schenckii can be transmitted by rabbits and most frequently produce a lymphocutaneous inflammation in humans. There will be the appearance of papules that first turn into pustules, then subcutaneous nodules that slowly expand through the lymphatic system. They can become ulcerated and ooze. Another form is pulmonary (in the lungs). Although this last form is rare, it has a high mortality rate.

Rabbit diseases caused by bacteria

Among the diseases caused by bacteria that rabbits can transmit to humans are:

  • Melioidosis: Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria cause abscesses in affected organs, such as lungs, spleen, liver and adjacent nodes.
  • Campylobacteriosis: rabbits can transmit Campylobacter jejuni, although the symptoms are not usually serious. Among them diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever, but they usually do not last more than a week.
  • Salmonellosis: rabbits can transmit Salmonellas to humans, causing gastroenteric symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or fever.
  • Pasteurellosis: pasteurellosis in rabbits is a characteristic and very complex disease caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida. It is transmitted by bites or scratches from affected rabbits and is characterized by the rapid formation of cellulite with or without abscesses. Bloody or purulent discharge from the wound is also possible, which can cause septic arthritis in the proximal joint. It can also colonize the human respiratory system, potentially resulting in pneumonia, bronchitis and lung abscesses. In limited cases it can affect the abdomen, causing peritonitis.
  • Yersiniosis: another of the diseases that rabbits transmit to people is yersiniosis, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pseudotuberculosis or Yersinia enterocolitica, the latter being the one that generates the most cases in humans and manifests with enterocolitis, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. Systemic infection is associated with liver and splenic abscesses, osteomyelitis, meningitis, and endocarditis.
  • Tetanus: caused by Clostridium tetani, a terrestrial and fecal microbe that rabbits can transmit by biting a person or scratching and they break the skin to create wounds.
  • Tularemia: also known as Rabbit fever, it is a rare disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. There are six clinical forms of tularemia, depending on the route of entry: ulceroglandular (the most common, causes skin ulcers), glandular, oculoglandular (affects the eyes), oropharyngeal (affects the digestive system), pneumonic and septicemic (affects the whole organism). Tthe symptoms infected persons may present include ulcers at the infection site, pain in the eyes, joints, throat and head, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, lymphadenopathy, enlargement of the spleen and liver, coughing, pharyngitis and skin lesions (erythema).
  • Q fever: Coxiella burnetii is the agent that causes Q fever in rabbits, especially wild rabbits living in mountainous area. It is transmitted through urine or excrement. In cases that produce symptoms, the wild rabbit can present fever, fatigue, chills, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Abscesses are particularly dangerous to a rabbit's health since it implies the bacterial infection is acute. Our article on my rabbit has an abscess will tell you more about the causes and treatment of this problem.

Diseases caused by viruses

On the other hand, rabbits can also transmit lymphocytic choriomeningitis. The etiological agent of this disease is an Arenavirus that can be spread to people through the feces of rabbits. It may not cause symptoms. If it does, it may result in fever, encephalitis or meningitis. If a pregnant woman is infected, it can cause malformations or even fetal death. Fetal mortality is less than 1%.

Rabbit diseases spread to cats or dogs

Among the diseases that rabbits can spread to other animals, such as cats or dogs, the following stand out:

Rabbit diseases caused by parasites

Some of the parasitic diseases that rabbits can transmit to our furry ones are:

  • Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasma gondii can be transmitted to our domestic felines by a rabbit. Symptoms depend on the organs affected by the protozoan as they multiply in their cells (stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas, eyes, lymph nodes, skin, muscles or central nervous system).
  • Cheyletiellosis: Cheyletiella parasotivorax is very common in rabbits and can be transmitted also to our dogs and cats. Symptoms include the presence of flaky skin and itching.
  • Thelaziosis: Thelazia callipaeda can be transmitted to our dogs and cats via fruit flies. It is a parasite that settles in the conjunctival sac of the eye and causes conjunctivitis, increased serous and tear secretions, as well as itching. Since the host animal tries to scratch the eye, it can cause serious problems.
  • Leishmaniasis: rabbits can act as vectors for the Leishmania infantum parasite if they are bitten by a mosquito carrying it. If it then bites a cat or dog, leishmaniasis can be transferred. The lymph nodes become enlarged and various symptoms can stem from the disease. They include increased thirst, increased urination, fever, abnormal nail growth, ulcerations, pustules, lameness, nosebleeds, neurological disorders and more. Ulcerative and nodular dermatitis on the head or extremities is more common in cats, as well as uveitis and inflammation on the tongue and gums.
  • Giardiasis: Giardia duodenalis can be transmitted to cats and dogs, producing watery diarrhea which can contain mucus. The prognosis is generally good, but weakened puppies and older or immunocompromised animals are at greater risk.
What Rabbit Diseases Are Spread to Humans? - Rabbit diseases spread to cats or dogs

Rabbit diseases caused by bacteria

As with humans, bacteria can pass from rabbits to other animals. This often occurs due to the animals grooming each other, often being ingested via the mouth. Bacterial infections are one of the most common types of diease in rabbits.

  • Campylobacteriosis: rabbits can be a source of Campylobacter jejuni infection in our cats and dogs. However, it produces intestinal inflammation only when they are immunosuppressed or if they have other diseases.
  • Yersiniosis: Yersinia pseudotuberculosis can be transmitted to cats, causing a disease characterized by the formation of pus granulomas in a generalized way throughout the body of our feline. It has a poor prognosis.
  • Tularemia: as with humans, Francisella tularensis can be transmitted from an infected rabbit to cats and dogs. In can cause ulcers on the tongue and palate, as well as anorexia, dehydration, muscle pain, organ enlargement and fever. It is more common in cats than dogs.

Rabbit diseases caused by fungi

As for the diseases caused by fungi that rabbits can transmit to other animals, the following stand out:

  • Sporotrichosis: in dogs, Sporothrix schenckii is involved in the formation of nodules throughout the body, although mainly on the abdomen and head. They are also sometimes formed in the liver, lungs and bones instead of the skin. In cats, sporotrichosis varies from an asymptomatic infection to a fatal systemic disease. The nodules usually appear on the extremities, base of the tail or the head, which can spread as the cat grooms themselves. Nodules can become ulcerated and reach internal organs, causing weight loss, anorexia, fever, depression and dyspnea (shortness of breath).
  • Dermatophytosis or ringworm: rabbits can be a source of Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum canis infections. These are characterized by the formation of various dermatological lesions, particularly when patches of hair fall out from the animal's coat. Generalized forms cause generalized alopecia, but other skin damage is likely.

How can I prevent my rabbit from spreading disease?

If we keep a rabbit, we want them to be healthy and not worry about diseases transferring as we handle them. While some of the above problems cannot be directly avoided, there are things we can do to best prevent disease. They include:

  • Vaccination and deworming schedule: keep vaccines and deworming for rabbits up to date.
  • Monitor feces: observe for changes in feces to find out if they may be sick. Avoid contact with dogs, cats and children if so since, as we have seem, many of the diseases mentioned are transmitted in this way.
  • Veterinary checkups: take the rabbit to a vet specializing in exotic pets if they ever seem depressed, have alterations in behavior or have clinical signs of disease. Prompt diagnosis and treatment will improve the diagnosis.
  • Reduce stress: although rabbits can only pass on physiological diseases to humans, they are more likely to be unwell if they are stressed. Look out for signs of stress in rabbits and do what you can to eliminate stressors from their environment.
  • Monitor their skin: monitoring the rabbit's skin frequently to look for lesions compatible with parasites, as well as trying to prevent mosquitoes from biting him, is important to control the good health of our pet.
  • Personal hygiene: it is important to wash our hands after being in contact with the rabbit's feces or urine. If you have dogs or cats that may have contact with wild rabbits or their entrails, it is especially important to keep them under control.

Follow our rabbit care guide video below to know how to best ensure your rabbit's health and well-being. In turn, you will be able to best protect your own health and that of any other animals in the home.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to What Rabbit Diseases Are Spread to Humans?, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.

Bibliography
  • Boadella, M. (2012). Sanitary importance of rodents and lagomorphs. MAGRAMA.
  • Acha, P. N, & Szyfres, B. (2001). Zoonoses and communicable diseases common to man and animals. Third edition, Volume I. Bacteriosis and Mycosis.
  • Galindo, E. F. (2010). Zoonoses by pets.
  • Medizzine. (2018). Diseases transmitted by pets.

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